Coming Home

Part One... We'll Come Back

Ashitaka raised his head and gazed out the cave entrance worriedly. He glanced to his side, where San was sleeping peacefully. Tonight, they were sleeping in the wolves' den because trouble was brewing in the forest, making it unsafe to sleep in the small home Ashitaka had made for them. On San's other side slept Mora, Ashitaka and San's eleven year old daughter. Despite her small and ordinary appearance, Mora was a powerful little wolf girl, with every bit of her parents' keen senses, physical prowess, and other attributes making it easier to live in the forest. Tonight, Mora and San slept peacefully at Ashitaka's side, unaware that his head was still lifted, searching with unnatrually strong eyesight for the source of his strange sense of foreboding. His ears strained to hear any sign of the trouble he sensed, his nose quivered in its struggle to pick out an unfamiliar scent that might be the danger. But his ears and nose were not as qualified for this work. San had always been his ears and nose in the forest. Resisting the urge to wake her, on the risk of waking Mora who would ask a string of unanswerable questions, Ashitaka carefully moved away from San and walked to where San's wolf brothers lay, heads turned toward the cave entrance and ears cocked expectantly.

" Something's happening." he said to them quietly. The two brothers raised their lips in snarles.

" And for once, it's not that woman." the eldest growled. Ashitaka looked out the entrance in shock. Eboshi was not the cause?

" Really? I thought for sure she was trying to get the forest, even after she signed the treaty." Ashitaka said. The wolves shook their great, shaggy heads.

" No. The smell of human fear is strong. Even the humans know something is happening. Tonight, I fear, something will happen that will change everything." the younger of the pair said. They now considered Ashitaka a brother. He was like another wolf to them. A strange, small wolf, but a mate for their little sister none the less. Ashitaka peered at the top of the mountain hesitantly.

" Whatever is going on, the cause is there." Ashitaka said, pointing to the top of the great mountain on which the whole Forbidden Forest lay.

" I believe so, brother." the older wolf said, almost smiling at the word brother. Suddenly, Ashitaka felt San's arms snake around his upper chest.

" I smell trouble. What's happening?" she said bluntly. Ashitaka peered down at the precious girl he was proud to call his wife and mate. Dangerous to her enemies, a wonderful fighter to her allies, a caring, devoted mother to Mora, and all the love and support Ashitaka would ever need.

" I don't know. Something. Something...big." Ashitaka said. A small pinpoint of light appeared at the mountain top.

" Very big." the younger wolf added. His older brother nodded down to Mora, who still slept as though no danger existed.

" The little pup is danger. She must not accompany us if we must fight." he said. Ashitaka and San nodded simultaneously.

" Yes!" San agreed quietly but urgently. Ashitaka cocked his head in thought.

" Yakul can carry her to Iron Town. Toki will know to care for her until we can get her." he suggested. San pulled herself away from him and knelt beside their daughter. It was the type of thing Ashitaka lived to see. His wife and daughter, together. He remembered the day San had brought Mora into the world. San was probably the only one in the whole cave that had known what she was doing. Ashitaka and the wolves weren't allowed in, and Toki, who Yakul had been sent to get, had been late. According to Toki herself, she had barely arrived in time to catch the little "pup," as San called her. San had gone through the largest portion of childbirth on her own. Just another testiment to how amazing she was. But, Ashtiaka had known that from the very first time he had seen her, blood smeared across her face and standing on a river bank, muddy, smelly, and tired. Now, her face was scrunched in worry for her first and only "pup."

" How will she stay on if she's asleep?" San asked worriedly, brushing a lock of black hair away from Mora's closed eyes. Mora had inherited her father's messy dark hair, which her mother cut short, and San's piercing eyes.

" We'll tie her on. Don't worry, San. Mora knows that we love her and she knows that we'll only do what's best for her. And it's not like Yakul doesn't know the way." Ashitaka assured her. San scooped the eleven year old up into her arms and rocked her tenderly.

" Brothers, would you please get Yakul?" she asked, never taking her eyes off Mora's serene face. After the two wolf brothers had gone, mumbling something about mushy sentimency, Ashitaka stepped up and embraced San and the still sleeping Mora in her arms.

" It'll be okay." he whispered. Mora shifted and snuggled closer to San. San looked as though she would break down at any second.

" She's still so little. I never knew. Is this what my mother felt for me and my brothers?" San asked. Ashitaka squeezed her, forcing memories of his won mother and father out of his head.

" More than likely. Moro loved you. You're passing on her love to our Mora, and someday, when she finds a mate, Mora will pass it on to her child. And who knows, maybe she will name her pup for one of us, like we named her for Moro." Ashitaka said. San smiled at his visions for the future, knowing that all the while he was gazing at that growing light on the top of the mountain, feeling his aprhensiveness and fear.

" But is it meant to be?" she asked. Ashitaka kissed her on the neck.

" There's only one way to know." he whispered into her soft skin as the wolves came in, followed closely by Yakul. Ashitaka approached his life long friend.

" Yakul," he whispered into the elk's ear. " You know I love you like a brother, and I'd trust you with my life any day. But tonight, I entrust you with something far more important. I need you to carry Mora to Iron Town, to Toki and Korokou. Please, Yakul, you, like everyone else, know that something will happen tonight. I know that I may not live to see the sun tomorrow. San may not either, and that thought is unbearable. I have to know that Mora will be alright, and if you carry her, I know she will be. Please, my closest friend, carry her like the wind, like you carried me through hoards of samurai and thousands of falling arrows, and I was never hit, not once. On your back, a person, a beast, anything is safe from harm. Which is why I ask you to carry my daughter through. Please, Yakul, tonight you must take her and be safe. Will you do this for me?" Ashitaka asked. He stood back as the red elk bucked his head enthusiastically. San ran foreward and leaned her head on Yakul's neck. Ashitaka and Yakul alone knew she was crying.

" Oh, Yakul," she whispered. " We knew we could trust you. You are our guarding wind. Love her like you loved us, if we cannot come back for her." San requested. Yakul bent his head over San's and neighed softly. Ashitaka ran his hands over his friends great antlers as he looked nervously to the ever growing light on the mountain top.

" It's time, San." he said urgently. San gently laid their daughter out on Yakul's back and held her while Ashitaka tied her gently, but firmly, in place with some rope they had brought from their home. One last caress on the face, one last affectionate word, and Yakul leaped down the ledge that the cave was on and through the forest. No doubt Mora would awaken before Yakul reached Iron Town. She was tied onto Yakul too tightly to move, and struggling would get her no where. Yakul would not stop until he was standing in front of Toki. Ashitaka knew there was no need to worry about Mora. But the foreboding was not gone. San mounted the eldest wolf and Ashitaka took the other. Together, the four rode up the mountain, toward the bright light. At the top, Ashitaka and San leapt off the wolves and saw that the light was coming from a deep crack. Ashitaka drew his sword and San brandished her dagger. Her headress was back at the cave. Peering into the crack, Ashitaka saw something black inside the glowing earth, struggling upward. He stumbled backward just as a huge, black, shaggy head errupted from the ground with a mighty roar. The head had a long, sharp snout and two pointed, black ears. Ashitaka hardly needed to think to see that the head, about three fourths the size of the largest wolf brother all on its own, was that of a massive black wolf. After the head, gigantic, powerful shoulders pushed out of the molten earth with a mighty shake, and the great wolf roared again. Beside Ashitaka, San growled angrily. Ashitaka raised his own hackles in an angry snarle. From the earth or not, this creature was a wolf, and it had invaded their territory. Though badly outsized, the wolf brothers reacted similarly. The giant wolf, all in all a little larger than Ashitaka remember Moro being, heaved itself from the glowing ground and stood before the four.

" I am Morto, the Black Wolf God." the wolf growled. It was definetly male. " I have come for my sister, Moro. Tell me where she is." the giant wolf requested.

" Moro's dead!" San shouted at Morto, waving her blade threateningly. The wolf glared down at her as if noticing her, Ashitaka, and the wolves for the first time.

" And who are you, puny human?" he asked. San bristled.

" I am no human! I am Princess Mononoke, The Princess of Wolf Gods, daughter of Moro!" she yelled back. Morto seemed a little taken aback by San's speech.

" And we are sons of Moro! This is our place! You are not welcome! Leave!" the wolf brothers cried in unison. Morto's angry glare rested on Ashitaka, who returned the glare icily.

" You accept a human male among you, but not your own uncle?" he asked angrily. It seemed that angrily was the only way Morto knew how to talk. Now Ashitaka bristled. Even though he was at peace with the fact that he was human, he would not have his new found family put down because of it.

" Intruder! You speak to the mate of Moro's daughter! Watch your tongue!" Ashitaka threatened. He knew the ways of wolves well. No kindness could be shown to intruders. Morto raised his hackles threateningly.

" You say Moro is dead? Moro was the most powerful wolf god! Who has slain my sister? Why does the mountian of the Forest God not smell like the Forest God? Tell me this?" Morto asked. Ashitaka began to feel like Morto was no friend. This was a dangerous beast who must be killed.

" The answer to both is the same. A human woman called Eboshi has slain both the Forest God and Moro." San answered, no longer yelling. She still meanced Morto with her stone knife. Morto roared.

" I have come to assist my sister in guarding this forest, only to find she has been killed by a human female and in her place stands two wolves barely past their pup years and two creatures with the bodies of humans and the hearts of wolves! And the Great Forest Spirit is slain also? Then nothing is left for me! But I think I shall derive great pleasure in destroying these two human creatures!" Morto shouted, lunging at San and Ashitaka. Ashitaka felt no pain. Only his sweet, beautiful San embracing him and whispering in his ear.

" We must go to Mother now." she whispered.

" Yes." Ashitaka agreed. He felt light and free. Only then did Ashitaka realize he was dead. It was the last thing he ever realized.

Mora ran through the forest in fright. She had barely escaped Toki, and now, gripping her dagger that her mother had made her, she ran to assist her parents. Suddenly she stopped. She heard the mournful howling of one of her wolf uncles. She read the words behind the sad tune. Instantly, she collapsed.

" Mama! Papa!" she cried in anguish. Mama and Papa had been killed. Pulling herself up, Mora ran on blindly, not feeling her painfully straining lungs and her screaming muscles, until she reached the mountain top. It was hot, very hot. The ground was marked with giant wolf foot prints, bigger than either of Mora's wolf uncles. Looking up, Mora saw two bloody heaps of flesh lying one on top of the other. The scent of evil and death were thick in the air, but strangely, there was no smell of fear as Mora crawled to the bloody heaps. Gingerly, she reached out and rolled the top one off. Now, lying side by side and face up, Mora could see their face. She rolled away and vomitted, tears streaming down her face.

" Oh, by Moro! Mama! Papa! What happened?!" the terrified girl screamed into the ground. Gathering her courage again, she lifted her head and looked to the torn, bloody, broken bodies of her parents. She crawled to them again. Still, there was no scent of fear besides her own surrounding the corpses. They had died unafraid. At that one instant, Mora was proud.

" What happened?" she whispered, gazing at the torn face of her mother in grief.

" The same thing that's going to happen to you. Who would have thought that those two had a pup?" asked a thick growling voice. Mora wheeled around and caught a flash of black fur before she slashed with her knife. A giant wolf stood over her, the mark Mora had inflicted on his cheek a small blood red streak on black fur. He said nothing else, but snapped his jaws at Mora. Mora knew she would die, but she was determined she would not die afraid, she would be like her mama and papa. She, like her parents, felt no pain. Only warm, soft arms reaching out to her.

" Mama, Papa." she whispered, burying her face in her mother's chest. The three of them nestled against soft, white fur.

" Who-" Mora started to ask, but her father silenced her.

" Your grandmother." a deep, rumbling, female wolf voice answered. And then Mora understood. She was dead.

" We'll come back." her father promised. Mora looked up to see he was speaking to her uncles and Yakul. The three nodded and walked away, leaving the others in their heaven, their oblivion...